Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Curious Afterlife of Human Teeth and Cockscombs at the Hunterian Museum : Guest post by Editor Charlie Mounter

Friend of Morbid Anatomy--and editor of my recent book on Walter Potter with Dr Pat Morris--Charlie Mounter--just sent in the following guest post about one of the most infamous specimens at the London Hunterian museum--a cross-section of the head of a rooster with a human tooth surgically inserted--and its curious afterlife.
The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields sparkles with dramatically-lit specimen jars, mostly collected by John Hunter (1728–1793; top image), a surgeon and anatomist.

John Hunter was the first surgeon to produce an anatomically accurate and scientific work of dentistry. He didn’t know about blood types and the intricacies of donor acceptance or rejection, but he did successfully graft cockerels’ own spurs onto their combs (‘an old and well-known experiment’), and graft their testes into their stomachs. His methods and principles paved the way for modern transplantation techniques.

At the back of the Hunterian Museum’s crystal gallery on the ground floor (2nd image down), you can see the jar of Hunter’s experimental dental graft of a human canine tooth embedded into a cockerel’s cockscomb (third image down).

Hunter believed that the tooth had taken and grown a blood supply; he preserved the bisected comb as a rare example of a successful transplant.

An embroidered emblem of this surreal arrangement (fourth and fifth image down) is still worn on the ceremonial gowns of the Dean and board of the Faculty of Dental Surgeons.
Today, pigs’ heart valves are routinely inserted into human hearts, pluripotent stem cells have been programmed to grow human ears on the backs of mice and we’re well on our way to being able to produce organs by 3D printing. Cross-species techniques look likely to become increasingly important for our large populations, while 3D printing might allow us to synthesize animal tissues for testing and research. John Hunter’s somewhat Frankensteinian experiments led to real medical progress.

The story of John Hunter’s life and work can be read in Wendy Moore’s brilliant biography, The Knife Man (Little, Brown; bottom image).

Thanks to Hayley Kruger, Acting Head of Learning and Access at the Hunterian in London, and to the Faculty of Dental Surgeons at the Royal College of Surgeons.
  1. John Hunter (1728–1793), Surgeon and Anatomist, by Joshua Reynolds
  2. © Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons
  3. © Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons
  4. © Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons
  5.  Miss Kathryn Harley FDS RCS, wearing her own gown; © Faculty of Dental Surgeons at the Royal College of Surgeons

No comments: